Brand guidelines are a set of defined rules that represent your brand and keep all brand-relevant details together in one document. They are extremely important because they keep your marketing efforts consistent across the board.
Little league soccer is already a chaotic jumble of shuffling feet, swinging ponytails, and too-big shin guards. Now, imagine the anarchy that might happen if you were to push your little players onto the field without teaching them the rules of the game.
Honestly, it could be fun to watch the fallout. But you certainly wouldn’t expect your team to win.
Because if you don’t understand how to measure, reach for, and achieve success, there is no point in getting on the field in the first place.
This is the same principle that makes brand guidelines so important in marketing. Trying to market yourself online without establishing your brand guidelines would be like trying to win a soccer game with a scuba mask and lacrosse stick. Hilarious, but unproductive.
So, where do you start?
There are many reasons to create an outlined set of rules for your brand. For starters, a brand that is cohesive and consistent is more memorable. If you want your customers (current and future) to recognize you across all platforms, you need to define what it is that makes your brand unique.
A cohesive set of rules will also make your marketing team more efficient. If there’s an established document for people to turn to, there will be a lot less trial and error and a lot more trial and success. So if you’re hoping to both differentiate yourself and make your marketing efforts more streamlined, you have to start by setting the ground rules.
The purpose of brand guidelines is to have all your brand-relevant information in one handy document. That way, you know exactly where to turn to (or point people to) when questions about your marketing strategy arise. But what, exactly, qualifies as brand-relevant information?
Keep in mind that your brand is what makes your business different from others in the industry. It includes details like the logo, mission statement, and personality you present to the world. With this being the case, your brand guidelines should include a wide variety of details, including:
Every successful marketing campaign will cause the consumer to feel something. So ask yourself, what do you want your ideal client to feel when he thinks of your business?
With these emotions in mind, you can create a brand narrative that invites the consumer into your world. Done well, a brand story will motivate readers to continue engaging by buying, following, or signing up for more.
Once you know your brand story and the feelings you want your brand to evoke, you can begin to think about that idea a little more concretely. Specifically, you can think about how to visually convey your brand story through colors.
Choosing a color palette for your brand may seem like a small task, but it is much more important than many people realize. In fact, according to a study performed by the University of Loyola, Maryland, color has the power to increase brand recognition by as much as 80%! That’s a pretty big deal if you ask us.
Now, there’s a lot of psychology that plays into how colors affect perceptions (and even behavior.) But here’s a basic overview of how certain colors make an impact. Research has shown that we see:
Do a deeper dive into the colors you’ve envisioned for your brand to discover if they’re a good fit for your narrative and guidelines.
We’ve already created an in-depth article regarding this topic. But what you need to know is that the right font can and does make a difference for your website. It helps you to stay consistent with your narrative, make content more accessible, and build a strong sense of your brand’s personality. That’s why it’s such an important part of effective brand guidelines.
By this point, you should have a pretty good feel for the graphics and images that speak to your brand. To provide inspiration for future creators, you might add a section to your guidelines that include photos, images, and graphics that fit the bill. If you’re drawing a blank, visit some websites of your competitors to get an idea of what does and does not work.
A lot of your business’s online marketing efforts will take the form of the written word. Before you can craft a blog post, home page introduction, or Tweet, you have to establish a strong writing style to keep these efforts cohesive. You might do this yourself or by hiring a copywriter. Either way, it’s important to define your voice before you start writing.
Remember, these are just a few of the components you might find helpful to include. Really, any information that could be considered relevant down the road should be included in the document. Here’s an example of a successful brand guideline document that we helped ToasterTubs put together.
Now that you’ve given some thought to the components that make up a strong set of brand guidelines, it may help to take a look at successful examples. Start by writing down a list of the most popular brands you can think of. Here’s ours:
What impressions do you have of the colors, fonts, and voices used by your favorite brands? What do these marketing choices convey to you? And, most importantly, what do you take away from each brand’s general persona? These takeaways can help you further appreciate how even the smallest detail can make an impact on a consumer.
If you found this exercise helpful, great! Try again, only this time start with a list of the most successful brands you can think of . . . within your industry. Of course, you won’t want to copy what someone else is doing, but you might find the exercise helps you identify themes and gaps within your target market.
Now it’s time to do the actual work. With the help of your marketing and sales team, create a document that includes all the information we’ve talked about thus far—plus, whatever else you think might be relevant. Your brand guidelines should be highly specific and unique to your business. If you want, you can pay for an online template that will make it easier to fill in the gaps. But we believe that the more personal and unique your guidelines are, the better.
By now it should be clear just how important your brand guidelines are to your business and its marketing efforts. But that handy document won’t be much help if you aren’t sharing it with the right people.
Of course, you’ll want to give first access to your marketing and sales teams. That way, they can use this hard-won information to keep all communications cohesive across the board.
However, it’s also a good idea to share this info with every person who works for you, not just those involved directly with marketing. Brand guidelines can impact everything from how someone designs a display window to how they handle a customer complaint.
Once you and your team understand the rules of your brand, it’s time to start implementing them. You can do this via your website, email list, and social media accounts. And you can even do it in person via networking or within the four walls of your storefront or office! Regardless of where you build your brand, make sure that you keep things clear and consistent across all platforms.
Your brand guidelines don’t have to remain static. In fact, the more you can adapt and expand the standards you’ve established, the better! While your branding should remain consistent, you can continue to shape and define what makes your business special.
Here’s a tip. To evolve effectively, you have to listen.
As you listen to feedback from customers, readers, and followers, you’ll find new ways to improve your communication efforts and make an impression. Of course, you can’t hope to please everyone. But if you notice trends in the feedback you receive, bring those back to the drawing board so that you can update your guidelines as needed.
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